Abbott and Costello made 36 feature films between 1940 and 1956—more than any other comedy team. During that period they appeared in Hollywood’s Top Ten eight times, and ranked No. 1 in 1942. Since they always earned a growing percentage of the profits of their films, the boys were also among the highest-paid entertainers in the world.
They made their film debut in the 1940 Universal musical One Night in the Tropics. Their follow-up film, Buck Privates (co-starring the Andrews Sisters), was a huge smash and led to a long-term contract. Universal struck while the iron was hot: in their first 12 months in Hollywood Abbott and Costello released four films, including two more service comedies, In the Navy and Keep ‘Em Flying, and had two other films in the can.
Among their best films between 1941 and 1947 are Hold That Ghost, Pardon My Sarong, Who Done It?, Hit The Ice, The Time of Their Lives, and Buck Privates Come Home.
In 1948 Universal crossed the boys with its stable of withered monsters and the result, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, was one of the studio’s biggest hits and an instant classic. The film led to a series of popular spin-offs, with A&C meeting the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the Mummy. (A short documentary was produced about this series of films.) Along with Africa Screams, these monster films are among the boys’ best work between 1948 and 1956.
The team made 28 films at Universal, but the studio generally spent very little money on them despite the fact that they were the first Universal stars to top the box office. This always rankled the boys. In fact, the only color films Bud and Lou made—Jack and the Beanstalk and Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd—were produced by Abbott and Costello themselves in 1952. Their films helped keep Universal’s gates open, and the studio simply ground them out like sausages.
Nevertheless, Bud and Lou’s films preserve some of the funniest burlesque sketches ever filmed as performed by the greatest comedy team to ever emerge from burlesque. Many of their movies also feature hit songs like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (an Oscar-nominee from Buck Privates) and “I’ll Remember April” (from Ride ‘Em Cowboy), and legendary acts as like the Andrews Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, and the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. The team’s “monster” films expertly blend chills and laughs, and paved the way for later films like Young Frankenstein and Ghostbusters.
Universal has released the boys’ films on DVD and Blu-ray in different combinations. The latest was a premium boxed set of all 28 films produced at Universal. This collection includes audio commentary on six films, including Buck Privates, The Time of Their Lives and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. It also features the compilation The World of Abbott and Costello (1965); the TV special Abbott and Costello Meet Jerry Seinfeld (1994); and the documentary Abbott and Costello Meet the Monsters (2000). Other extras include a special 44-page booklet and 20 theatrical trailers.
The authoritative guide to all of their films remains Abbott and Costello in Hollywood, by Bob Furmanek and Ron Palumbo. In addition, three other books cover specific films in-depth: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein: The Complete Filmscript, Buck Privates: The Complete Filmscript, and Hold That Ghost: The Complete Filmscript.
The team’s other films were made at MGM or independently. The MGM films are Rio Rita, Lost in a Harem, and Abbott and Costello in Hollywood. The others are The Noose Hangs High (Eagle-Lion), Africa Screams (Nassour), Jack and The Beanstalk (Warner Bros.)—all of which have been restored in 4k resolution and issued on Blu-ray—plus Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd (Warner Bros.) and their final film, Dance With Me Henry (United Artists).
Lou Costello made a solo film, The 30-Foot Bride of Candy Rock (Columbia, 1959) after the team had split. It was released posthumously.